For most of the 2010 EIVA final, the Princeton men’s volleyball team was far more than just a nice story. Through two tight sets, Princeton played like a team on a mission to reach the NCAA Championships. The upstart Tigers would ultimately fall in three sets to No. 12 Penn State, which won its 12th straight EIVA title Saturday night.
Princeton, which led by five points in the opening set, was right with Penn State in each of the first two sets. The experienced Nittany Lions won the key late points to advance with a 30-28, 30-27, 30-13 victory. But the loss did not tarnish an amazing ride for the men's volleyball program, which took on a new head coach and four new starters, including three freshmen, and still found a way to the end of the EIVA road.
“We altered our goals in the middle of the season,” said Princeton head coach Sam Shweisky, the 2010 EIVA Head Coach of the Year. “Instead of just trying to get to the EIVA semifinal, we started thinking about not just getting to the final, but winning it. And I think we almost did that today.
“I’m really proud of the guys and what we did this season.”
Both junior outside Vincent Tuminelli and freshman middle Michael Dye were named to the All-Tournament team. Tuminelli led Princeton with 16 kills and hit .448 for the match, while Dye recorded 12 kills and hit .524 for the match.
Sophomore setter Scott Liljestrom recorded 35 assists for Princeton, while senior Jeff McCown recorded a team-high five blocks. Both McCown and senior Carl Hamming combined as co-captains to lead Princeton to its first EIVA final since 1998.
Princeton led the opening set by as many as five points, an advantage that came on a Dye kill to move the score to 14-9. From that point, the Nittany Lions chipped away and evened the score at 20-20 on a kill by Sunder.
Penn State finally took a lead at 24-23 and built the edge to two points, but a kill down the line by Tuminelli and a block from Dye evened the score at 26. Penn State got the lead back on the next point and regained the two-point edge on a service ace by Alan Mars. The Nittany Lions played sideout ball for the next few points to conclude an opening 30-28 victory.
“You could just see they were starting to get better and better, and I thought we’d have to weather a storm in that first set,” said Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik, who led the Nittany Lions to the 2008 NCAA title. “I really like this Princeton team. It shows how much they bought in to what the new coach wanted to do. I honestly believe they will be in the running to be in the top two next year. In fact, if we aren’t careful, Princeton could be hosting this thing next year.”
Penn State grabbed the early lead in the second set, but Princeton was the team to rally for the tie. Strong passing led to a mid-game connection between Liljestrom and Dye, and those two helped Princeton get back to a 22-22 tie. A gritty Tiger effort kept play even through 25-all, but consecutive kills by Ryan Wolf, the latter coming off an overpassed serve by Nick Turko, gave the Nittany Lions the important two-point edge.
All-America senior Max Lipsitz, playing his final match at Rec Hall, made sure that advantage would hold. His final two kills put Penn State one set away from its 12th straight EIVA title.
It also gave Penn State total control of momentum, and the Nittany Lions took advantage immediately. Lipsitz recorded a kill and two blocks, while Price recorded a service ace, to send Penn State to an immediate 5-0 advantage. The Nittany Lions never looked back and rolled to a 30-13 victory”
Princeton concludes its 2010 season with a 15-10 record and its third EIVA final. Since that 1998 championship year, Princeton had never won a single set beyond the quarterfinal round; that changed when the Tigers swept George Mason in the semifinal Thursday.
“It’s really special,” said Tuminelli. “At our alumni match, they all talk about how much it meant to them in 1998, even the guys not on that team. Now that we made it back to the finals, it means a lot to us, and I feel like we made the alumni proud as well.”